Desert Oasis: Putting Black Desert’s music system in context with other MMOs


Back in the day, I used to really be into the ukulele. I used to play in open mics and sold them as my day job! But that was a long time ago; I don’t play as much anymore. The music never really dies, though. While I rarely go to ukulele club meetings and perform anymore, the itch to perform and play is still there.

For those with that same itch, MMORPGs offer a nice alternative. Whether you’re an active musician who can’t leave the house because of quarantine, or if you “fret” about going out and playing in public, the right MMO can help you scratch that itch.

Are you an avid Lord of the Rings Online player? Well it’s there, and that’s one of the earliest examples I can think of when it comes to giving players the ability to rock out with their own songs (yes, Star Wars Galaxies had an epic music system, but players were limited to a set selection of songs). Are you a bard of the spoony nature? Then Final Fantasy XIV offers a robust experience with a little time investment. How about an Elementalist that would rather shred on a guitar instead of blowing into a magical warhorn? Guild Wars 2 has you covered as well.

But what if you’re the “shai” type? Well, lucky for you Black Desert recently released a music system all its own. There’s plenty of choices, but how do they stack up to each other? In today’s edition of Desert OasisI’ll compare BDO’s music system to similar systems found in other games.

Get in the (lord of the) ring (online)

For me, Lord of the Rings Online represents the best example of player-made music systems in an MMO. I remember reading about it in a PC Gamer magazine circa 2008. I don’t know if this was the first time an MMORPG had player-made music, but it’s surely the most well-known.

The game set the format for future player-made music systems: After getting an instrument, you can either play it freestyle or play pre-made ABC files. ABC files are basically song files that can be played by doing a slash command from the game chat once players download the music code. Players also have the ability to use the tool to play as a group through more specific chat commands as well. It’s a powerful tool, especially since apparently the freestyle mode is still laggy and overall a very “treble”-some experience. But as MOP’s MJ pointed out to me, those really willing to go the distance can even plug in a piano keyboard and play music that way.

Every class can play an instrument, but the Minstrel has access to the most instruments. Makes sense – I mean they play music for a living. To get the instruments, players just have to go to the NPC that sells the instruments and buy them for a little bit of money.

Better watch out, cuz I’m a (guild) war machine

The original Guild Wars had a pretty good music system too! All you had to do was type /drum or /airguitar and your characters would start emoting playing with their air instruments. OK, I’m kidding: Obviously, no actual music played, so players had to pretend the music was playing.

Guild Wars 2 amended that, though. The cash shop offers various actual instruments. Players can buy a flute, guitar, harp, or hand drum. I know there’s an underwater piano somewhere too, so that’s a thing. An instrument replaces the skill bar with notes, plus two buttons for switching between octaves.

There is no way to automatically play the music in GW2, but a quick Google search produces tablature that can be used to play some favorites. For gamers who obsess about animations, this one can be a difficult recommendation because if you’re in the music playing animation for too long, it eventually stops looping the animation and just starts looking weird.

Flesh for (final) fantasy

Those who choose the path of the FFXIV Bard gain access to a suite of instruments. At level 30, Bards can talk to an NPC in Old Gridania, which unlocks the ability to perform. Bards gain access to a variety of instruments: a harp, drums, horn, and flutes. Each instrument has a variety of sounds; the harp can sound like a lute or a piano, while the horn can be a trumpet or a tuba.

Players can create their own music via freestyle. The whole keyboard is used, and players can access up to nine (!) octaves. With so much range, players can and have composed complex pieces with the use of these tools. There is a player made tool that allows players to play .midi files too, but it’s a third-party software. It’s one of those “gray area” programs out there, so use it at your own risk.

Lost on the (black) desert

Clearly, Black Desert has some pretty big shoes to fill. So how does it stack up compared to the other ways the music is played in MMORPGs?

Well, it’s certainly different. For starters, there is no free play mode, and only the Shai can play music. The music composer tool is fully featured, though! It’s got nine full octaves, and players can choose between three instruments: the guitar, drum, and flute. It’s also an all-inclusive program, in that there’s no need to download ABC files or third-party software. Players can share their music or download music composed by others all through the program. It also makes it easy for a solo or group of Shai to play the music. But there’s a caveat: Your Shai won’t be able to play it if she’s not skilled enough.

And here’s the glaring difference between BDO’s system and many of the others: You have to grind to make it better. Unlocking the system isn’t really the big problem; it doesn’t take that long. Players will need to get their Shai to 56 and do the quest that unlocks her awakening and her instruments. What does take time is getting your Shai good enough to play.

The musical note with an “F” denotes your shai’s musicianship

Shai have a special stat called musicianship. The higher the level, the longer she can play. It’s based off a letter grade; all Shai begin at “F” level, meaning they can compose music with up to only 500 notes. That equates to about a 45 seconds to a minute. So far, the highest right now is C-. At a C- rating, Shai can play music up to 2-4 minutes long.  In order to level it up, Shai need to do some daily quests where they play music for various NPCs. It’s a time investment, but I’m sure for many players that’ll be worth it.

Black Desert’s music system is a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, the playback and music creation tool is feature-rich. But unlocking its full potential takes time and effort. The daily grind of leveling up her musicianship rating through the quests can “barre” players from really getting into the system.

There are a lot of daily quests to help your shai level up her musicianship.

On the other hand, it rewards the players who put the time into the system. Shai with a high musicianship rating can compose and play any song they want through this system. Players who know how the system works can appreciate that Shai rocking out to the full rendition of “Take On Me” simply because just being able to play the darn thing requires dailies and time!

I shouldn’t be surprised that Black Desert managed to find a way to include a grind when it comes to creating music, but I think the game doing it at all is impressive in its own right.

The Great Valencian Black Desert is a dangerous place, but thankfully there’s always a chance for respite. Join Massively OP’s Carlo Lacsina every other week for just that in Desert Oasis, our Black Desert column! And don’t worry; he promises he won’t PK you. Got questions or comments? Please don’t hesitate to send a message!
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